Defense propels Liberty past Canyon Springs

Liberty didn’t exactly put on an offensive show at home Thursday night, but thanks to an opportunistic defense, the Patriots didn’t need to.

Liberty’s defense twice handed the ball to its offense inside the Canyon Springs 3-yard line via turnovers, handing the Patriots two key scores en route to a 21-13 victory.

Quarterback Samuel Tai cashed in both easy opportunities on 1-yard touchdown runs, turning a game tied near halftime in Liberty’s favor midway through the third quarter.

Knotted at 7 with less than 30 seconds remaining in the first half, Liberty’s Teu Tai picked up a fumbled handoff at the Canyon Springs 31 and returned it just short of the goal line. Tai’s touchdown with 19 seconds left gave the Patriots a 14-7 halftime edge.

The Patriots (2-1) also stunted Canyon Springs’ first drive of the third quarter when Chanston Kahoaka intercepted a Tyler Ward pass at the Pioneers 40 and sprinted toward the right corner of the end zone, falling just short at the 3. Two plays later, Tai scored on a keeper to push the Patriots’ edge to 21-7.

The Pioneers (1-1) bounced back on the first play of the fourth quarter as Deavin Rimmey broke a pair of tackles on a dazzling 19-yard touchdown run from a shotgun handoff, but they later squandered drives starting at midfield and then the Patriots’ 13-yard line.

The latter chance came by way of an interception by Canyon Springs’ Kendrick Dilworth of a tipped Samuel Tai screen pass at the Patriots’ 26, and a personal foul brought Canyon Springs to the Liberty 13 with 6:30 left in the game.

The Patriots stuffed a Ward rush for a 5-yard loss and Ward fell on a botched snap for a 4-yard loss. After a Liberty sack, the Patriots’ D.J. Warren picked off Ward at the Liberty 5 to end the threat.

Liberty totaled just 163 yards of offense in the game and turned the ball over four times. Ty Byrd paced the Patriots with 62 yards on 22 carries, including a 2-yard scoring run in the first quarter.

Rimmey led Canyon Springs with 77 yards on 18 carries. Ward finished with 93 yards in the air on 7-for-20 passing with a touchdown and three interceptions. Liberty also forced four Canyon Springs turnovers and partially blocked a punt as well.